Iowa NativismPosted: March 15, 2012
Now maybe I’m particularly sensitive because I’m not actually from here, but I find these damn “Iowa Native” stickers to be at best confusing, at worst offensive. (My grandma was born in Keokuk, my dad grew up mainly in Burlington and graduated high school in Clinton, but I myself grew up in Madison, WI.)
The original intent of these stickers, as described by the people hawking them was that “It would be a way for Iowans residing in every part of the country or the world to show their pride in their home state.” And that does seem like a really nice idea–indeed, the above picture was taken in San Francisco, and I certainly would have smiled were I to have seen it there. In Iowa, however, these stickers take on a whole other meaning (at least as I see it.)
First comes the question, who counts as an Iowa Native? I’d reckon the Meskwaki would have a whole different take on that question than do the legions of smug white folk who have them plastered on their bumpers. Second question, is it really that big of an honor to claim native status in a state that has for years suffered from a brain drain as its young and educated leave the state for brighter prospects elsewhere? I could understand it a little better in a place like California where it seems like everyone is from somewhere else. (I guess my mom could get one of those stickers–she was born in Palo Alto)
Those earlier questions dealt with issues that were perplexing, but the final question deals with the fact that these bumper stickers at the very least hint at a discomforting level of xenophobia: What do these stickers mean to the many people who have immigrated here both from other states and from other countries?
In the context of an Iowa City that is constantly up in arms over the “Chicago element,” this sticker seems pretty darn offensive. In a community like the one in which I teach that is majority Hispanic, this sticker seems pretty darn objectionable. In a state whose territorial-era laws required blacks to post a $500 surety bond, this sticker seems pretty darn repugnant. In a state where anti-German hysteria reared its ugly head during WWI, this sticker seems pretty darn distasteful.
Not content to simply carp about this to my friends, I made a mock-up of a counter-message sticker highlighting the inclusiveness that exists in Iowa despite the above examples. I ordered a set from Cafe Press, and am proud to say that my version is presently displayed on two cars:
If you would like one of these for you car, please leave a comment and I’ll shoot you an email to get your address. They are free of charge and shipped for free if you agree to put it on your car.